Have you ever asked, “Where are you, God?” in the midst of a difficult season? Trials can shake us up and lead to wondering about what God is doing, but there’s always more than meets the eye. In this message, we look at James 1:1-12 to learn the potential, prescription, and promise of trials.
Let's go! It is so fun to be back. It has been a great restful season, but I have missed you guys, and I'm so pumped to be back. We are kicking off this series tonight. We're going to start the book of James. If you're joining us in El Paso or Scottsdale… For the first time, Indianapolis is kicking off. We have several different Porch.Live locations…Austin. Wherever you're joining from or if you're just tuning in online or everybody in the room, we are kicking off this series. We are so stinkin' pumped for what God is going to do both tonight and in this series.
Let me start off by inviting you into my world a little bit when I was growing up. I am one of four kids. So, I have three siblings. I have an older brother, older sister, and younger brother. If you have siblings in the room, you know whoever your sibling is has a direct impact on your growing up, especially if you're the younger or you're younger than one of them. The way they blaze a trail through high school or the bridges they burn all the way through high school directly impacts… "Oh, you're so-and-so's little brother. You're so-and-so's little brother."
Because I was third, I had an older brother and an older sister. A lot of people have an older brother where they're like, "I just lived in his shadow. Star quarterback…" That was not my older brother. My older brother hit puberty at 20 and was in the choir. So I didn't have that, but I had an older sister who cast a shadow so big it would be hard to even describe, specifically as it related to sports. By far the most athletic person in our family was no one with a Y chromosome. It was her. She was a phenom at track and field.
At 16 years old… I mean, she won state. She had full-ride scholarships to almost every school in the country. She broke records. In a huge high school, she broke records. So, everywhere I went, it was, "Oh, you're Angela Marvin's little brother." At 16 years old, the entire town (at least that's how I remember it in my mind) on a Friday night came out, and there were so many people who were there to see her break the five-minute mile and run it in four minutes and change…a 16-year-old. She was just a phenom.
She won state multiple times. She went on to Baylor. She still holds a lot of Baylor's records. She won the Pan American Games in high school. She won the national championship her freshman year. I mean, it was this huge shadow. So, literally, growing up in high school, everywhere I went, it was, "Oh, you're Angela Marvin's little brother. Oh, this is Angela Marvin's little brother." Coaches would show up from every major SEC school. Every school in the country would show up and be like, "Oh, you're Angela's little brother."
This huge shadow was cast of being in the shadow of this sibling who everybody in town knew. Now what does that have to do with James? Well, if you're not familiar with it, James lived and grew up in an environment where he also experienced an enormous shadow that would have been cast because of one of his siblings. His sibling was not just famous in the town they grew up in. His sibling was the most famous person who has ever lived, because his sibling was Jesus.
Jesus had half-brothers. One of them was a guy by the name of James who didn't always believe in Jesus, but he eventually did, and he wrote the book of James. What we're going to do as we journey through the book of James is hear from someone who spent time with Jesus. Think about if you could spend time with Michael Jordan's best friend or his brother growing up, what that would be like.
We're about to hear from the half-brother (because they didn't share the same dad; they had the same mom) of the most influential person of all time. You know, "We're going on vacation. We're taking the camels, going to see the cousins." There's James. There's Jesus. The guy who likely shared a room with Jesus, because houses back then were one room, so everybody shared a room. He's at Jesus' bar mitzvah. Whenever they're like, "Oh yeah. Party hat. Let's do this…"
James is there for all of that, every interaction, every scenario. Think about the pressure that would have come… I don't know what your siblings are like, but maybe you have somebody who never does anything wrong. How much pressure would James have felt? When he's stealing cookies from the cookie jar and he's like, "I didn't do it; somebody else did it," Jesus is like, "I know all things, James. I know you stole the cookies."
Or he's out there macking on some girl at school, like, "What's up, Shorty? How are you doing?" and Jesus is like, "James, we talked about this." How much pressure would it be to grow up in that type of shadow? James, though he didn't always believe (I'll cover that in a second), eventually came to believe "He's not just my brother; he's the Messiah," and he writes the earliest piece of the New Testament.
The letter we're about to jump into… A little context. It's written by James. I already covered that. He wrote to Christians spread all throughout the Roman Empire, basically all throughout the world. He wrote the earliest letter in about AD 45, which is about 15 years or 10 years after Jesus was resurrected and went back to heaven. James writes this letter, and he writes to Christians who are trying to figure out, "How do I live out my faith? I'm walking through, and people are attacking me for my faith, and the world around me doesn't really like Christians. How do I live this out?"
James writes, and he covers a topic we're going to dive into tonight that's the first of, really, 14 different topics. We won't cover all of them every single night, but he launches in and begins to cover this topic. What you need to know about James as you track through… I want to encourage you, if you're new to reading the Bible or you've been reading it for a long time, to journey with us through this book. We're going to go through every single verse. We're going to try to unpack and, as we do, help explain how to study the Bible.
It's one of the most common questions we get. "How do I study? I come to The Porch. I feel like I can understand it there, but by myself…" We're going to walk through and explain and hopefully give handholds on how to practically and personally journey with us. We're even going to have some resources in a couple of weeks that we'll be releasing where we're going to journey through and listen to the whole truth from the half-brother of the Son of God.
Tonight, we're going to cover a topic that is as relevant as it has ever been. It's the topic James starts with, which is trials. When life throws something at you that you didn't ask for, that you didn't invite, that you don't even necessarily want there, whether it's sickness of someone in your life… It could be a breakup. Big and small. Your latte wasn't the right temperature when it came out or you found out someone in your family is sick, like, really sick. You've lost a job that you banked everything… You thought this for sure was going to be it, and it didn't happen.
You got let go for reasons you don't even fully understand. The relationship that you thought, "Oh, they were the one…" Now they're just someone, and it broke off, and it broke part of you. What do you do in those trials? Tonight, we're going to journey as James launches in, because trials and pain and difficult things have been around for a long time, and God wants to use those things. Tonight, we're going to talk about the point of trials, what God is doing in the midst of them, and three things to know about in the midst of this.
We're going to start in verse 1 of chapter 1 of James. "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ…" He introduces himself. "…to the twelve tribes…" Which, if you know the Old Testament, is basically a name for… It's like saying the 50 states of America. It's 12 tribes of Israel. So, Jewish Christians. "…scattered among the nations: Greetings."
James, unlike other writers in the New Testament… Paul gives a long intro. "Hey, this is me. This is how I'm excited. This is going to be so great." A lot of intro. James doesn't do that. He's a "no fluff" kind of guy. He dives right in. "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance." Or the ability to continue going or enduring faith.
"Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." Immediately, he starts with something that's very counterintuitive and not natural for us. He says, "Whenever you face trials, I want you to consider it joy." Why would you say "Consider it joy" James? Whenever things are falling apart and life is not going well, who in the world considers that joy? That's not normal. How could he say such a thing? Is it because he's a glutton for punishment? "Hit me again!" No.
In the verse he tells us. There's a reason why in the midst of difficulty, hardship, things that for the rest of your life are going to come at you… Unlike most people or many people or some people in the midst of a trial… The cancer comes back. Something they never thought could happen to them happens, and they begin to walk away. James says, "No, no, no. In the midst of every trial, you can have joy, because there is a potential in the midst of that trial for God to use it to bring about good."
Specifically, he says, it can produce something in your life. Every hardship, every breakup, every painful season of singleness, every disappointment is an opportunity where God wants to use that to produce something. What does it produce? He says a persevering faith, an enduring faith. That is the thing that brings about a maturity inside of your life. God uses that to mature you and me in the midst of difficult things.
James says, distinct from many other things, if you want to be someone who's mature in their faith, who's steadfast, who doesn't walk away, who doesn't fall away, it's going to involve trials…sometimes trials you caused, others caused, no one wanted, but God allowed. He's saying if you will hold on to your faith in the midst of that, God will use that to bring and mature you and mature me. Unlike other things. What do I mean by that?
You can read a bunch of Bible verses this week. You can read the whole New Testament. Is that going to make you mature? No. That's going to make you smarter. You could obey every verse in the New Testament this week. Is that going to make you more mature? Nope. That'll make you obedient. Distinct from many other things, what is the path toward being mature, growing up in your faith? It involves trials and walking through them.
James says when they come… This is so relevant, because I've heard it story after story after story for the last 12 years of doing this. And you've heard it. People walked away from their faith, and now they're trying to come back to it. At some point in their life their parents divorced. Their mom got sick, and she never came back. Things seemed to spiral out of control, and they found themselves going, "I don't even know if I believe this anymore." For one reason or another, they just walked away.
Do you know what I've never heard from the person who says, "I'm walking away because of trials; I'm stepping away from my faith"? I've never heard the person who does that, years down the road or even months down the road, say, "You know what? I was following God, and then I got news I just couldn't handle.
Things just didn't seem to be going the way I wanted, so I was like, 'You know what? I'm out on this. I'm not doing this anymore,' and I walked away. And you know what happened? Everything in my life got better. I walked away from God and my relationships got better. My self-control got better. My happiness got better. Anxiety went away." I've never heard it.
I've heard hundreds, if not thousands, who say, "Man, I let that trial push me away from God, and it also pushed me away, when that happened, from peace, from joy, into addiction, into depression." James says trials are going to come. Notice he doesn't say if they come; he says when they come. But there's potential, because God wants to use it to grow and mature your character.
There's a famous story about Michelangelo. Michelangelo was an artist in the 1500s. He created many famous works. One of the most famous ones was a statue called the Statue of David. He took this single block of marble, a huge block of marble, and out of it… At a time where there was no machinery, no electricity, nothing fancy, he took it and a single hammer and chisel and chiseled away and created the Statue of David. It was a marvel.
He had a conversation with somebody where they asked him, "How were you able to make such an incredible thing?" Today we could do this because we have all types of machinery that could do it, but just with a hammer and a chisel he was able to produce that. His answer to how he was able to do that was, "It was simple. I chipped away everything that didn't look like David."
In the same way, trials are one of the hammer and chisels God will take in our lives and he'll allow to chip away and conform everything in your life and my life that doesn't look like Jesus. That's what the Bible calls sanctification. What's sanctification? It's what trials do. It's what the Christian life is. It's a word that means becoming more like Jesus. One of the ways that happens is through the hammer and chisel of trials in our lives, where God will chip away.
How does he chip away? Think about it. Do you know what happens in trial? A lot of the ways… I'm finding my identity in how much I make, in the job I have. I lose that job. I'm confronted with the fact that I don't even know who I am because I don't have that anymore. I find my identity, I find myself, I find my confidence in how I look, and all of a sudden, I got hit with an autoimmune disease. I'm not going to look the way I wanted to look, and I'm confronted with the fact that "I put too much stake in what other people think about how I look."
Trials come, and people will turn, and you discover, "Oh man. I'm coping with something in an unhealthy way," whether it's marijuana, whether it's the bottle. Maybe it's just dysfunctional relationships. God, in the midst of those trials, says, "Don't let go. Don't abandon. Hold on." In doing so, he's going to chip away everything that doesn't look like Jesus in your life and in my life.
It's through pain that we often grow healthier. In other words, some of the most painful times are the things that bring about health. My son on a Tuesday night a couple of years ago… My wife called me. I wasn't teaching, but I was in the greenroom. I was hanging out. At that point, we have a 3-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter. She calls me and says, "Our son's finger just got slammed in the car door, and his nail is completely off, and his finger is messed up. I've got to take him to the emergency room."
It wasn't one of those situations that I could be like, "All right. Go get 'em, champ." I was like, "All right. Tell me where to go. I'll meet you there. I'm not teaching, so I'll join you." We go to the hospital. In my mind, I was like, "His fingernail is falling off. Okay. All right, Drama Mama. Let's go," just not knowing what to expect. Then I get to the hospital, and I see, and it was. His entire thumbnail was totally off.
As a 3-year-old, you're freaking out. As I've said before, tears are already on standby, so it was constant. The doctor comes in. He evaluates it. He says, "Hey, can I talk to you for a second?" He says, "We're going to have to stitch that entire thing up. In order for us to fix and put back together his thumb, I'm going to have to stick a needle into a thumb," which is not pleasant for anybody, let alone somebody who's 36 months old. "If I'm going to do that, I need you to hold him down."
So, I had to sit there and hold a 3-year-old who couldn't understand anything, who is negotiating, like, "I don't even need the thumb. I don't even want the thumb. It'll be fine. Please! Stop the needle! Please!" It was so heartbreaking. I'm having to hold down his arm and allow some pain to take place so his thumb could heal.
In the same way, it's often through painful moments that healing, growth, and maturing happen, distinct from all other categories. God wants to bring that about to refine our faith. Like I said, it's not if you face trials; it is when. They are coming. Jesus said in John 16:33, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
"There's going to come a day I'm going to make everything new, but from now until then, there are going to be pandemics. There are going to be breakups. There's going to be divorce. There's going to be tremendous pain." It's not if; it's when. This is why the prosperity gospel is so crazy to me. The prosperity gospel, if you're not familiar with it, is this teaching that millions of people buy into.
Pastors in positions like this say things that are not biblical. They're like, "If you follow God, this year everything you need in life is going to go well. You're going to be wealthier. You're going to be healthier. You're going to be svelter. It's going to be great." People buy into it by the millions. Some of the most significant, influential pastors in America preach this nonsense that's a not-biblical idea.
Jesus said, "It's going to be rough." You're going to walk through the valley of the shadow of death over and over and over. Everybody is going to die. Everyone. The death toll is still at 100 percent. No one has escaped it other than Jesus, and that man said you are going to face trouble. You won't always get the job. You won't always be healthy. Your spouse is going to die.
Think about even the pain represented in the futures of this room, if we could look down in a moment and go through everything that's in front of you. Hundreds, if not thousands, of you will die of cancer, or your wife or husband will. Some of you will never be able to have children because infertility is a thing. Some of you are going to bury your child.
There is tremendous pain that's represented even in the future and certainly in the past here. Anyone who promises "If you just read enough Bible, that's not going to happen" is a liar, and they don't teach the Bible. The Bible says pain is coming. James says not if it comes…when it comes, you need to be ready. My heart tonight is to say you and I need to be ready. It's going to come. Don't let go. Don't walk away. Lean in.
If you know something is coming, it makes it a lot easier to be able to handle it and take it than if you don't. In other words, if I were to take one of these guys who looks pretty bowed up, and I was like, "All right. Come up onstage. Let me punch you in the stomach," you'd probably be like, "All right, dude. You look like you're not going to throw one that hard. I'll take it." And I punch you in the stomach, and you're ready for it. You're like, "All right. Thank you, sir. May I have another?"
If I were to walk up when you're talking to your girl outside and I was like Boom! as I walked by, you're not going to be able to breathe, because you weren't bracing yourself because you didn't know it was coming. James is saying it's coming. You need to know that and be ready. If that makes you anxious, you're on planet earth, so I'm just telling you reality.
In the midst of that storm, you and I have a hope, as followers of Jesus, that we get to hold on to, knowing there's a heavenly Father who's going to allow that to be a potential to use even the most painful moments to work for good in our lives. Some of you, the pain in your past and the stories… It may be even the opposite.
You've walked through pain, and one of the ways God used it and grew you and matured you was he gave you a great example of what not to do. You were raised in an abusive home. Your parents had a terrible marriage. Even that can be a thing he uses to say, "I'm going to show you, by seeing the example of what not to do, what you're going to do." That's the story I have.
I grew up in a broken home. My parents divorced. I didn't ever see godly marriage modeled out and learned a lot of what it looks like to be a dad by what not to do. I don't know your exact story and the specifics, but I do know in every trial, in every pain, there's potential that God wants to use to mature and to bring about good in your life and my life.
James then goes on to what to do in the midst of a trial when you can't connect the dots on what God is doing. He says, "If any of you lacks wisdom…" Think about that sentence. It's like saying, "If anyone needs oxygen…" Does anybody not lack wisdom in this room? If you raise your hand, you are the person who for sure lacks wisdom, because you're so not wise you don't even know you lack wisdom. That applies to everybody. But he's going somewhere. He's connecting it to this idea of trials.
"If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all…" He gives generously to all of his children. "…without finding fault…" To the person who's walking through a trial and in pain and they don't know what to do… They can't connect the dots on what God is doing in the world, and they're just having a tough time. They haven't had their quiet time. They messed up with their boyfriend.
To that person, does God hold it against them? Nope. He gives generously. When I was reading this text, I got this image of a grandpa who's handing out ice cream. He just goes on and on. He just gives generously…two scoops, seven scoops. Or Oprah. "You get a car, and you get a car, and you get a car." James says that's what your heavenly Father is like. He gives generously to all who ask him without finding fault.
"But when you ask, you must believe…" Believe that God is good, that he loves you, he's at work. "…and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do."
He incorporates an analogy that really fits, where he brings up the topic of a storm, this idea of a storm and the wind and the waves and things blowing back and forth. In the midst of the storm, James says, as you walk through trials, you need to know there are going to come times where you cannot connect the dots. That's what wisdom is. Biblically, the definition of wisdom is the ability to see things from a bigger perspective, from a heavenly perspective.
That's what wisdom is in general. The reason we associate older people with wise people is because we assume, "You've lived a lot of years. You probably have been through something like this before. You have a bigger vantage point than I have." The reason you're wiser than a 12-year-old is because you've been down the road, and you're like, "Yeah, man. I know how this ends. Junior high… Those zits are going away. It's going to be okay." You have a higher perspective.
Wisdom in general and the biblical understanding of wisdom is the ability to see life through a heavenly perspective, to see the trials, to see singleness, to see breakups, to see disappointments through a heavenly perspective, a higher perspective, and in light of that live life. James says if you're in the moment where you can't connect the dots on "How could God be using this?" In the midst of those storms, we begin to ask questions. "Where are you, God? Why would you allow this? How are you doing this? What am I supposed to do now?" When you're in those places, you should go to your heavenly Father who gives generously, providing wisdom to those who ask.
That's why there's an endless list of self-help books that are top sellers every single year, because people keep putting out, like, "Oh, you can, you can, you can." Yet there's no one fix, like, "Oh, this one actually worked," because you and I can't help ourselves. You may be able to make moderate changes and get on a Keto diet, but in terms of actual peace and walking through trials, walking through life, you don't need self-help. You and I need God-help.
James says you have a heavenly Father who gives generously. He loves you. He said, "Call out to him. Talk to him." He wants to generously give in response to that. One of the things that having kids has grown in me or showed me is how God's love for me and for those of us who are followers of Christ who are called adopted, like sons and daughters… His love for me is something I don't know that I even have begun to understand.
Why do I say that? Because as someone who has kids, the amount I love my children… I don't even know how to describe it in words, like, the things I would do and the ways I care about them and am concerned about them. I would do anything. What they care about I care about. I can't even describe it. I have a 2-year-old daughter whose name is Monroe. She is just the best. We call her the "Joker" because she's constantly laughing and making jokes. She's just out of control and probably going to be really concerning someday with boys.
She got this game recently for dropping her pacifier, and it's called Pretty Pretty Princess. I never heard of this game before. Who has heard of this game before? Or she would call it, because she can't do her Rs, "You want to play Pwetty Pwetty Pwincess?" It's the best. I'm like, "Please do this for the rest of your life." I'll give you the game, guys, because I didn't know what the game was until we got the game.
There's this board, and you spin it, and you get a piece. There are all of these jewelry pieces. Each person has a color. You have blue and pink and green. (This is going somewhere, by the way.) You spin it, and if you land on an earring, you get the earring. If you land on the necklace, you get the necklace. By the end of the game, you're decked out in plastic jewelry. I'm just glad there are no pictures out there or anything.
I'll sit there, and she constantly wants to play. I would say this very, very confidently. Prior to having kids, I can say, going 30 years of my life, there was never a moment where I was like, "You know what I could really go for right now? Some Pretty Pretty Princess." That just never crossed my mind. I never had the thought. It's not really the most exciting game, but I could sit there and play with her for hours on it because of how much she loves it.
In the same way, the picture the Bible gives of your heavenly Father… I know there are a lot of people who didn't have a good father around, me being one of them. It's a Father who loves you so much he doesn't just want to play a board game with you. He wants to spend time with you. He wants you to call out to him for help. He wants you to know how much he loves you. He said, "No matter what you're walking through, you can turn to me. You can invite me for help, and I give generously to my kids." You need to know that.
James would say, "Call out to your Father as you're walking through a trial. Ask him for help. Ask him for wisdom." As I said, wisdom is the ability to see things from a higher or more eternal perspective. A lot of times, we just can't connect the dots. "What are you doing, God? How does this fit into your plan?" He promised in Romans, chapter 8, and Ecclesiastes 3:11 he's working all things together for good, and he will make everything beautiful in its time.
That verse is shocking to me. "I will make everything beautiful in its time." Someone dying from a drunk driving accident, beautiful? Someone you know experiencing sexual abuse, beautiful? Someone dying of cancer in their 20s, beautiful? There are a lot of things I look at and I'm like, "I don't know how you're going to do that."
My wife… Another thing that happens when you get married is you get rugs. Men, you probably should know this. There's something about women and rugs. I didn't know. Every three months, I'll come home, and my wife will have a new rug out. She's like, "It was on Facebook Marketplace. I sold the other one and got this one. It looks so great. It feels so fresh. It just feels so clean." I'm like, "Huh. I never would have gotten that."
I feel like I have bought so many rugs in my life. Men, you should just know. When you get married, you are going to be investing in some rugs. Do you know what's interesting about a rug? There's one side where everything is vibrant and beautiful and purposeful, the work of someone who's making a beautiful tapestry. Then, if you flip over the rug, especially depending on the rug you have, you see another side where there are frayed edges and things sticking out and dull colors and it just doesn't look like anything beautiful.
I think a lot of times in life the reason it looks that way for us is because it is that way. We can't always connect the dots. You can't always see it until you see it from the other side. There will come a day when God says, "I promise, I'm making everything beautiful in its time. One day you're going to see. I know it looks like frayed edges. I know it looks dull. I know it looks like 'How could this possibly be used for good?'
But even more incredible than someone who makes rugs, I am weaving together a tapestry and using even the broken things for good. I am inviting you to ask me for wisdom to see it from the other side, to see it from a heavenly perspective when you're walking through those moments and trials, to not let them push you away from me but push you toward me, and ask me for help." James says when you walk through, you need to know God has invited you, and he gives generously to those who ask him.
If you're walking through a trial tonight, I just want to encourage you, before you leave, to invite God, maybe during the last song. "God, will you help me? I'm struggling. How can this make sense?" Maybe it's a breakup. Breakups are freakin' horrible. Maybe somebody is really sick in the hospital with COVID. Maybe it's something much smaller or something far greater.
I don't know what it is, but to just say, "God, will you help me connect the dots? I'm inviting you. Would you give me wisdom to handle this situation? Would you help me right now? Would you take away the cancer? If you don't, would you help me to connect the dots? Because I feel like this is a frayed edge, and I don't want this to drive me from you. Will you help me?" James says, "I know my big brother. That's a prayer his Father loves to answer."
"For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business. Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him."
James, what are you saying? He just laid out, "Every person who's poor should take pride in their high position, that God has allowed them to live this life struggling and walking through the trial of being poor. Every person who's rich should take pride in their low position, because God hasn't given them the gift of walking through these challenging times." What are you trying to say, James?
He's saying poverty is going away. Riches are going away. Trials are going away. A person in that day and age would have thought wealth would have meant "God is blessing me, and forever I'm protected from those things." James is going, "You're not protected from anything. Riches are going away. This life is a vapor," James is going to say later in the same book. The Psalms say, again, life is a vapor. What's a vapor? A few weeks ago, Snowmageddon. You went outside, you breathed out, and you could see your breath forming. Instantly, it has gone away.
That's what the Bible says your life is. You're going to spend millions and billions and billions of years in eternity. This life is a vapor compared to that. James says the minute you die, if you're a follower of Jesus… If you're poor, you're richer than you will ever be. If you're rich in this life, you're infinitely richer than you've ever been, and this life is going to fade away. It's temporary. Keep going. Don't let go. Blessed is the one who holds fast in the midst of the trial, the one who will receive the crown of life. Don't let go.
The promise of trials is that they are temporary. They're going away, and they will not remain forever. Don't lose heart. Don't let go. Suffering won't last, and one day everything broken in our world, Revelation 22 says, will be made right. If you are a Christian, the good news is this is as bad as it will ever get. I don't know if in your life right now you're like, "Dude, everything is great. You're kind of hurting my vibes right now" or everything in your world is terrible.
The good news is if you're a follower of Jesus, this is your hell. It will never get any worse. Only up from here. If you're not a follower of Jesus, this is your heaven. It's only going to get worse. And it won't get worse because God doesn't love you. He loved you so much he died on the cross for you. You. Whatever you think you've done, whatever you're like, "Oh man. This is kind of good, and I kind of like this. I need to really get right with God some more, but I don't think I could go to heaven…" You can, because God on the cross paid for your sins.
The message of Christianity is not "Good people go to heaven. You really need to try harder. Why didn't you read your Bible yesterday? God knows about the fact that you smoked outside of the school that one day with Beverly." That stuff doesn't matter. He knows all that. He knows everything you think would keep you out of having a relationship with God, and he died for all of it in your life, in my life, and in every life that's in this room.
He's a God who said, "Every sin you've ever committed… I died for sins you don't even know you're going to commit this Thursday." Paid for. Not because of how good you are or how much you've done or you trying to follow him or do good things. That will never earn you a relationship with God. Accepting the free gift of Jesus on the cross, dying for you… "Jesus, I receive. I believe." The Bible says, "Whosoever believes will not perish but have eternal life." Whoever believes in Jesus. "You paid for me." Not whoever behaves for Jesus…whoever believes.
If you've never had a moment where you've said, "I don't think I'm good enough to earn God's love. I'll never get there…" You won't. You'll never get there. But you can accept what he did for you and for me on the cross, dying, and say, "God, I accept that. I don't know fully how to do that, but I'm going to trust in what you did for me on the cross." You'll have eternal life and this world is your hell, but if you don't, this world is your heaven.
James says to those who are believers, "Hold on. If you're rich, you're poor, the trials are going away." Whatever you're walking through right now, it's on a shot clock. Whatever hardship you're facing, whatever pain you're feeling, whatever sadness you're holding, it's not going to last. Don't let go. It's coming to an end, and while it's here, God will use it in your life and in my life.
There's a famous woman named Joni Eareckson Tada who has a large ministry. Joni, when she was 17 years old, was swimming at the lake with some friends. They were all diving in the lake, and she did what many of us probably have done hundreds of times. She ran and jumped in the lake head first, only in the spot she dove into there was a cement pillar, and she broke her neck. She was paralyzed from that day in the 1970s to now.
That terrible trial pushed her into the arms of Jesus, and she has traveled all over the world and spoken about how "Despite the fact that I'm in this and I'm a quadriplegic…I can't move my arms, I can't move my feet, I can't move anything below my neck…God is good, and he has used it, and I trust him." So powerful.
Larry King, who passed away in January, had a show for years and years, and on there one time he interviewed Joni Eareckson Tada. He was kind of amazed with her and fascinated by how someone could be so professing and yet not profess like, "Hey, if you believe Jesus enough, he'll let you get up and walk," but "I believe Jesus so much whether I walk or not." He was kind of perplexed by that. He had her on, and he interviewed her. At one point he asked her, "Are you excited to get to heaven and one day be able to walk?"
Here's what she responded with: "If I could take this wheelchair to heaven with me, standing next to my Savior Jesus Christ, I would say, 'Lord, do you see this wheelchair? You were right when you said that in this world we would have trouble, and there's a lot of trouble being a quadriplegic. But you know what? The weaker I was in that thing, the harder I leaned on you, and the harder I leaned on you, the stronger I discovered you to be. Thank you for the bruising blessing it was, for this severe mercy. Thank you.'"
I think a lot of us would say, "I want to feel closer to God." I know I would. I want to be more like Jesus. But if someone asked, "Do you want to suffer more?" I think I'd say, "Not if I can avoid it." And they would say, "Those are the same questions." One of the routes God grows us, we find him most near, is in the midst of trial and suffering. James is saying, "Don't lose heart. It's going to be worth it."
One thing that's fascinating to me is the fact that women have more than one child, as curveball as that sounds. That's so painful. The fact that they go all the way through that… My wife clearly has carried the heavy lifting as it relates to birthing, and I still am like, "Oh man…" There's a friend of mine who's an elder on staff named Mickey who says men are stronger but women are tougher. I think that's so true. Men may be physically stronger in general, but women are tougher.
I think that's so true with childbirth. There's something about the amazing gift of moms, where they're like, "Even though I went through all that pain, it's worth it, because now I have this child on the other side. I would do it again and again, because despite the pain, it's worth it." James is saying, "Despite the pain, it's worth it." The Bible says, "I consider this present suffering not worth even comparing to what awaits us." Think about that.
It's not even worth talking about. That's what he's saying. The worst thing you could walk through is not even worth talking about. It's not even worth comparing. It's not even worth mentioning it. Do you know what is ahead? That's hard to reconcile for me at times, but that's what James, who spent time walking eyeball to eyeball with the Savior of the world, his half-brother, said. "It's not even worth comparing. Don't lose heart. Don't let go. He's at work, and you can trust him."
I'll close here with the thing that ministered to me the most this week preparing this message. I mentioned that James had not always believed in Jesus. We're told, if you read the Gospels… There are so many different occasions where his family thinks he's crazy. In other words, growing up, when Jesus would be like, "I'm the Son of God," James wasn't like, "That's my brother. Hey, he's the Son of God." He was like, "Oh, my brother thinks he's the Son of God. This is so awkward."
All of his brothers thought that. In Mark, chapter 3, we're told there was this occasion where Jesus was teaching, and he's telling these things to people, and it says his family, when they heard this, went to take charge of him because they thought he was out of his mind. In John, chapter 7, it says the same thing. His brothers were like, "Oh, Savior. Yeah. You should go to the big city, ol' Savior boy." It says they didn't believe him. They had not believed.
James walked, and in spite seeing all of these incredible things, he just thought his brother was weird. He didn't believe. I was telling my son last night… We do story time, and we've transitioned from doing dinosaur stories to Jesus stories, which feels like a parenting win in my book. I was just preparing this message and kind of in the middle of it. I was like, "Hey, do you want to hear the story of Jesus' baby brother?"
As a 5-year-old, he did what probably some of you did, which was like, "Jesus had a brother?" I was like, "Yeah. James is his name. James didn't always believe in Jesus. He loved his brother, but he just didn't think he was anything special. He thought he was different and unique, but not God, not God's Son."
Sidenote. It's pretty normal. Am I right? Anybody in here like, "There were a couple of times growing up where my sister Sarah… I was almost like, 'Son of God? Maybe?'" It would be a little challenging for most of us to be like, "Yeah. I could get there pretty easily. My brother is a straight‑A student." It's pretty understandable that he was like, "I know him. He's awesome, but not God."
Then something happened. His brother that he had tried with his other brothers to get away… "Dude, you're crazy. Come back home with us." His brother was arrested because he was starting this… They called it a cult. He started this little movement called the Way, and they arrested Jesus. James is going, "I knew something like this was going to happen. I knew this would happen. We should have done more. We should have been more forceful. We should have gotten him home. He has now been arrested."
Then things take a bad turn, and they put his brother Jesus on trial. He may not have believed he was the Son of God, but who in here is like, "I want…" What had to be the nicest person James ever met. "I want him to be killed? That's my brother. No. Surely this is going to stop. He's got to be able to stop this from happening." He has his 33-year-old brother crucified, which would have been like electrocuted outside of the city walls. It was reserved for the worst of criminals.
He has what is such a shameful way to die happen to his older brother. What emotions go through you in that moment? He doesn't know the end. We sit on this vantage point and we're like, "He knew the end. Three days later… It's Friday, but Sunday is coming." He didn't know the end. No one did. No one thought he was going to rise from the grave.
We see the Bible through the lens of today. We're like, "Oh yeah. They all knew. They gathered around. They probably had a big tailgate. They're gathering around on Sunday outside of it, and they're like, 'Wait! Did I see a movement with that stone? Oh! Here it comes! Ten, nine…'" No. None of that happened. He's going, "My brother is dead. How could this happen?"
Three days later, something happened no one thought would. That tomb rolled away, and Jesus defeated death for him, for you, and for me. He rose from the grave, saying, "I paid for every sin in all humanity, red, yellow, black, and white. All of them are precious in my sight, and all of them I gave my life for."
He went around and eventually ascended to heaven, but before he did… This was so powerful to me. In 1 Corinthians 15, we're told what Jesus did. He had this short window where he came out of the grave, and he showed up to small groups of people. Do you know one of the first people he shows up to? In 1 Corinthians 15 it tells us he rose from the grave, and then he appeared, and he appeared to Peter. Of course. Peter is the leader of the disciples. Of course he's going to be like, "Peter, I'm back." Then he goes and appears to the disciples. Of course. Those are his guys.
Who does he appear to? Whose name is mentioned next? James, the little brother of Jesus. Despite the fact that James was not looking for him, had not believed in him, Jesus never stopped looking for James, and he showed up. What did that conversation look like? That was the one that changed everything. He went from "I don't believe in him at all" to "My brother is not just my brother; he's the Messiah. He's my Savior."
He shows up and says, "James, it's true. Everything has always been true. The reason you thought I was different is because I was. The reason I didn't look like Dad is because he wasn't my dad. It has all been true. I'm your Savior. I'm the Messiah. I love you. I just died for you. I don't hold it against you that you didn't believe in me." On that day, everything changed. James went from a person who didn't believe at all to leading the church in Jerusalem.
When Paul writes in Galatians, he says the pillars of the church are Peter and the brother of our Lord, James. He went on to eventually be martyred and thrown off a building for the sake of spreading the gospel. What's the gospel? It is the good news about Jesus. In a moment, the Savior of the world, the brother he grew up with… Everything changed. How he saw trials changed because how he saw Jesus changed. Whether he was ever looking for his brother, his brother never stopped looking for him.
Some of you in the room tonight need to know God, whether you're looking for him or have been, has never stopped looking for you. The moment you're going to change your perspective on trials is the moment you change the way you see Jesus. He's not just some man. He's not just some person who was written about. He is the Savior of the world. If you will put your faith in him, you're going to live forever and ever and ever. Whatever trial you walk through, James would say, "Don't let go. It's going to be worth it. Don't let go. Don't let go. He's the King. He's with you." Let me pray.
Father, I pray for anyone who has never put their faith in the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the King, the one they were made by and made for, the name above every name, Jesus. I thank you for the testimony of James personally, how emotional and powerful it is to think that this brother who had no belief in you, that you never stopped running toward and running after and even dying for and that you have poured that same love and same pursuit toward all of us.
I pray for anyone who has never accepted the fact that you are the King, you're the Risen One. You don't expect them to earn their way to you; you died so they could have eternal life by trusting in you. I pray tonight would be their night. I pray that as we journey through the book of James, you would minister to our hearts and we would hear the full truth by your Spirit about what it looks like to walk with you.
Thank you that you have preserved this incredible book, and I pray you would use it to minister deeply to all of us listening…in the room, online, and at all of the different locations. We worship you. You're our King. You're the Risen One. You're the Messiah. You're the Savior. We declare and believe that and sing that now in song. Amen.